Unrestricted Access

Web Accessibility

What Is Web Accessibility?


Accessibility has two main specific standards on the internet. There is the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the United States of America's Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Guidelines. In the United Kingdom, accessibility on the web is covered under Code of Practice in Disability Discrimination Act.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The WCAG was written by an international panel of accessibility experts and is comprised of three priority levels. These are defined as:

  • Priority Level 1 (A);

    A Web content developer must satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it impossible to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement for some groups to be able to use Web documents.

  • Priority Level 2 (AA);

    A Web content developer should satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers to accessing Web documents.

  • Priority Level 3 (AAA);

    A Web content developer may address this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it somewhat difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will improve access to Web documents.


UK Legislation

The Code of Practice from the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) contains specifics about accessibility in websites. Specifically the following sections:

  • 2.2 (p7): The Act makes it unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide any service which it provides to members of the public.

  • 4.7 (p39): From 1st October 1999 a service provider has to take reasonable steps to change a practice which makes it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of its services.

  • 2.13 - 2.17 (p11-13): What services are affected by the Act? An airline company provides a flight reservation and booking service to the public on its website. This is a provision of a service and is subject to the act.

  • 5.23 (p71): For people with visual impairments, the range of auxiliary aids or services which it might be reasonable to provide to ensure that services are accessible might include … accessible websites.


Why Is This Required?

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.

Tim Berners-Lee - http://www.w3.org/WAI/

The above quote by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the WWW, sums up the why accessibility is important for websites. The web, in it's infancy, was designed to give greater access to information. The web has grown since this but accessing information is still it's primary application.

The web is now a much more user-friendly and graphical media but this should distract from it's main purpose — providing information. Information is useless if it's not accessible by those who seek it. Therefore maintaining a certain level of accessibility is important for anyone who uses the WWW. Making a website accessible doesn't mean that it should conform to the lowest common denominator, and be bland with no graphical interaction. Graphical websites can be extremely accessible and conform to the highest level of the WCAG.

It may seem that making an accessible website takes a lot of time and that there are a lot of different rules to follow. People may also argue that making a website accessible restricts possibilities of certain layouts and a heavy use of images.

If you follow certain simple rules, write semantic markup and use CSS to present your design then it'll become clear that a complex yet accessible website is fairly straight foward to achieve.

Keeping accessibility in mind when building a website doesn't just benefit disabled people. Research has proven that an accessible page is navigated by all testers quickly.

Further Reading & Resources

Below are resources I used for this article and would be interesting further reading on the subject.

Web Accessibility Initiative

WAI, in coordination with organizations around the world, pursues accessibility of the Web through five primary areas of work: technology, guidelines, tools, education and outreach, and research and development.


About the UK DDA

While the text of the DDA does not directly address web accessibility, there are strong indications that the DDA could successfully be applied to web sites and that the WCAG would be used in determining web accesibility.